“The Lady with the Crow” Picasso
The Morríghan (“phantom queen”) or Mórrígu (“great queen”), is a figure from Irish mythology. Her personality is associated with the sometimes frightening aspects of female energy.
Most popular is her embodiment as the Goddess of Death where her representation is most complete with frequent appearances of crows or ravens on the battlefield. She is often shown as a black raven or hooded crow, who feeds on the killed warriors after battle.
She often appears as the Cailleach, a one-eyed old woman. In Scottish folklore the Cailleach arises every Samhain and is responsible for bringing cold, snow and treacherous weather before turning to stone every Imbolc. The Cailleach, whose name simply means ‘older wise woman’ in Gaelic, is both feared and respected in British and Irish folklore.
The Cailleach’s great age signifies her position as keeper of the mysteries, and as gateway to the infinite. She serves as midwife for the dying year, tenderly holding the seeds of the new, safe beneath the earth, whilst her cauldron bubbles, hinting of the new life that will eventually come, after the long sleep that is the winter.
She is said to be responsible for raising mountains and hills and placing cairns and barrow mounds upon them, revealing her connection to the underworld and ancestral realms, of death but ultimately also of rebirth.
The owl or ‘Cailleach oidhche’ is sacred to her and is also associated with death, the underworld, magic and the ability to see spirits. Deer and Cattle are also sacred to her and cattle bones, particularly horned skulls, have been found in numerous long and round barrows.
The origins of the Morríghan seem to reach directly back to the megalithic cult of the Mothers. The Mothers usually appeared as triple goddesses and their cult was expressed through both battle ecstasy and regenerative ecstasy. The Morrighan is often depicted as a trio of individuals, all sisters. Although membership of the triad varies, the most common combination in modern sources is Badb, Macha and Nemain.
The ‘Phantom Queen,’s role and cult can easily be identified as remains of a matriarchal cult. She has a lot in common with goddesses like Inanna, Ishtar, the Indian Kali or Hecate.
The Morrigu is prophetess of all misfortune in battle and has knowledge of the fate of humanity. She is also the messenger of death as the dark lady or the washer at the ford – where prior to battle those destined to die see Morrighan washing bloody laundry.
As a protectress she empowers an individual to confront challenges with great personal strength, even against seemingly overwhelming odds. Roman chroniclers reported that Celts went into battle naked, exposing tattoos to summon their magical forces.